An engineering student’s Blog

” …All of this. All of this was for nothing – unless we go to the stars.” – Infection, Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski

How to turn economic worries into the Second Renaissance

There has been a lot of talk about a jobless recovery to one of the deepest recession since the depression.  Well America: If you want jobs – how about pushing the current administration to open up the new frontier, while we still have the opportunity.  Yes, initially that will require some government spending to catalyze new technology and industry – this is what NASA was founded for.  What would result if the cost of launching people and hardware into space was reduced to the critical point where people treated spaceflight like we do airlines and global travel are treated today?

What you would have is a second renaissance, a space based industrial revolution that would cause a huge expansion of economic activity. Jobs would be in high demand on the new frontier and at home building the capability to get them there – just the same as it was when the U.S was expanding to the pacific and the new world was really beginning to open up to more common people.  This is why I am cautiously optimistic about the Obama administrations new NASA plan, and the FY2011 budget.  It seems like a step in this direction.

What I’m concerned with is the lack of a clearly defined destination, when the Augustine commission clearly stated, “the ultimate destination for human exploration is Mars.”

And the lack of interest in the option to extend shuttle flights to reduce the gap and to use shuttle derive technology to develop a nationally operated HLV until the private sector develops a reliable and robust alternative.

Filed under: Economics, Mars, Politics, Space

We should go to Mars – my letter to the Augustine commission

My letter to the Augustine Commission’s subgroup on exploration beyond LEO

Dear Augustine commission and members of the Exploration Beyond LEO subgroup:

We should be a society that exists on more than one planet.  Humanity can determine our own destiny, unlike the vast majority of species that have come and gone on this planet – But we have not yet proven this. We should make Mars our immediate focus and develop the means to go there in an incremental, series of progressive steps that capture the publics interest and maintain it. With major mile stone events in an evolving architecture with Mars firmly established as this generation’s challenge. This and this alone will restore NASA to it’s rightful place in humanities consciousness, as an institution that Inspires.

Mars is the most compelling target for manned space exploration – but a sortie styled unsustainable architecture would be unacceptable. One of NASAs priorities should be to bring the private sector along every step of the way to fill in what NASA can never do alone, and that is levee the creativity and resourcefulness of the most productive nation in the world towards opening up the next frontier and developing space. It would be ashame for NASA not to learn from the greatest error of the Apollo flights, the lack of follow up, the fact that US policy wasn’t to catalyze the amazing capabilities of industry and private human enterprise to tackle the challenge of space flight. The 2nd industrial revolution awaits with untold potential for wealth and economic growth. NASA can begin this by funding more COTS like programs, and integrate these into the path to Mars. So that when the political environment changes with respect to space as it unfortunately and maybe inevitably does, commercial interest can further humanities interest in developing space. NACA did amazing things for commercial aeronautics and developed a real industry that could continue without an overwhelming, unsustainable federal expenditure. This can be done for space. And the US is still in a position to fully exploit this and lead in this emerging industry, an industry that in my humble opinion is still in its infancy with respect to its unbound potential.

Do we want humanity to fight over the scraps of what remains of Earth or do we want to infuse ourselves with the renewed vigor of a challenge worthy of humanities ability to do anything. Transform our world, save it, by giving our society this challenge that unites us, one more time.

I am just a freshman mechanical engineering student and father of a 2 year old boy. I’m in no way an expert with all of the facts in front of me I humbly submit my thoughts to you with a grain of Hope. I’m inspired by people like the Apollo 11 Astronauts, engineers like Robert Zubrin, and space enthusiast like Ross Tierney, to do what I can while I can. More over I’m taking the time to share my thoughts because I believe we have an opportunity for positive change in the course of history at this time. Good luck & may reason guide you hearts and hope steer your minds.

Interesting ideas from more skilled and capable people here:

Now if you were to ask me what some of those first steps beyond LEO should be and how we could achieve them, my best guess would be something like this.

We are in the process of developing a heavy lift capability to go to the moon and enter the first phase of the Vision for Space Exploration.  Continue this.  But the Ares I and V don’t seem to be the best means vs cost, capability and time frame.  I’d have to say the best alternative is the DIRECT shuttle derive launch vehicles the Jupiter130 and Jupiter246, one rocket plus an earth departure upper stage that levees what we already know, the people and skilled labor we already have and the hardware we’ve already characterized and operate.  Modify the EDS to serve as a phase I LEO propellant depot, and contract commercial providers like SpaceX and ULA and our international partners to refuel the depot.  Fund Commercial Orbital Habitat Services, Commercial Orbital Propulsion Services and Commercial Orbital Power Services competitions and leverage NASAs capabilities to integrate these new ventures into a phase I Orbital Transfer Vehicle that can move mass and crew between orbits and to the moon.  Fund a Commercial Orbital Propellant Depot Services competition to develop a better propellant depot based on the EDS technology that you can share with private companies to place a more capable PD at EML-2 and SEL-2 and investigate human NEO and Phobos missions.

I imagine you can throw an inflatable transHab module from Bigelow Aerospace a solar electric power system and VASIMR propulsion system from AdAstra Rocket into orbit on a series of SpaceX Falcon9 heavy rockets within 5-10 years as a means to get Astronauts back and forth between the Earth and the moon.  While NASA begins its moon missions based on the Altair/Orion baseline.  Once the technology for the Orbital transfer Vehicles are fully vetted NASA may want to switch to a Commercial Orbital Transfer Services program and use the program savings from utilizing lower cost commercial providers to perform its current operations to develope the technology to spear head the next step.  This will involve more commercial competitions to evolve the OTVs into a phase II Interplanetary Transfer Vehicle from witch NASA can contract for missions to NEOs and Phobos.  All of thise while NASA works the most difficult, long poll, development item.  The Mars EDL system for landing heavier loads on the martian surface.

Thru this entire development process you’ve involved the private sector more and catalyzed new economic growth and capability towards space exploration and development.  While at the same time the incremental process has allowed opportunities to capture the publics attention with milestone flights, landing and events – critical for continued political support and funding.

One of my favorite quotes, “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” – Robert H. Goddard

Respectfully and hopefully yours
Eric Rivera

Filed under: Mars, Science, Space

The 2nd Industrial Revolution & New World

Some good reading about the current state of human space flight and what itll take to break out of LEO and move out further, with potentially a much greater pay off than what it’ll take to startoff at the SpaceRef’s going beyond LEO.

And at the IEEE’s spectrum a number of great articles about the technical and economic challenges of a Mars Mission, at this time.  Included is an article written by Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society about how to go – Right Now.

Should I stay or should I go?…

GO.  It is my opinion that humanity is doomed to a pathetic death and waste of universal proportions if we don’t take on the challenge of exploring, developing and eventually settling other worlds.  We waste away and fight over trivia with grave immeasurably horrific consequences without challenges.  We grow and evolve with them.  This mission to explore and go to other worlds is the challenge Humanity needs to survive and break free of its current grim, status quo.

A decision to abandon Human space flight or leave it to future generations, is humanities death sentence.  We should choose to go.  We should choose to grow.

Filed under: Mars, Science, Space

The Dream is alive and well

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. “

– Thomas Jefferson


My two year old son loves this, “Mars movie” he calls it.  Well at least the parts with the rockets!  The future belongs to them.

“The Case For Mars” by Dr. Robert Zubrin is recommended reading for anybody interested in the future of human spaceflight.

Enjoy The Mars Underground

Filed under: Mars, Space

The Change We Need

This is taken directly from the premier issue of the Mars Society’s official journal, the Mars Quarterly.

The Change We Need

As the year 2008 moves toward its close, those of us concerned with the human future in space are faced with both a crisis and an opportunity. On the one hand, the situation appears to be dismal. The U.S. budget deficit is running at a record level of $500 billion this year, with all signs pointing toward an incredible trillion dollar red-ink blowout next year. Our new President, while not an outspoken opponent of the space program, has no track record of support for it either. So, if budgets need to be lashed, NASA – particularly the Bush administration’s Vision for Space Exploration – could easily end up on the block. This is all the more the case since NASA
unwisely chose to devolve the VSE from its original formulation as Moon-Mars-and beyond vision to a Moon only program, thereby depriving it of all popular support or scientific justification.

On the other hand, the displacement of the Bush crowd from policy making positions provides an opportunity to reformulate the space program into something much better than the Lunar dead-end that the VSE had become. Spending the next generation working on an “Apollo on geriatrics” return to the Moon would have been an enormous waste. Now we have a chance to escape that fate. During the election campaign, Barack Obama criticized the American space program, saying it was no longer inspiring people the way it had done in the 1960s. His point is well taken. But is the answer for an uninspiring space program cancellation, or transformation? Do we simply abandon the timid goal of a return to the Moon, or bravely embrace the challenge of humans to Mars?

Calling for the initiation of a bold space program in the face of current economic crisis may seem totally unrealistic, but the fact of the matter is that it is in the toughest of times that the greatest of deeds have been done. It was the Lincoln administration, faced with a rebellion that threatened to destroy the nation, that initiated the visionary project of building the transcontinental railroad. It was the Roosevelt administration, faced with a fascist onslaught to enslave humanity, which initiated the greatest scientific mobilization the world had ever seen. It was the Kennedy administration, faced with imminent threat of nuclear war, that launched us on our path to the Moon. With respect to the space program, the situation remains as it has for the past three decades. NASA needs a goal, and that goal should be humans to Mars. This is so, because Mars is where the science is, it is where the challenge is, and it is where the future is. But with respect to the nation, the issue has reached its critical moment.

We are faced with, as Obama has said, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “the fierce urgency of now.” Because now is the time when we decide whether we are going to rise to the occasion or not. Is the dream of an unbounded future going to live, or will it die, snuffed out by a defeatist acceptance of the age of limits?

“Do not go softly into that good night.”

It is in times of darkness that the torch needs to be lit. It is in times of fear that the flag needs to be raised. A humans to Mars program would help mobilize our economy, at a time when it needs to be mobilized, and inspire millions of youth to develop their minds. But it would do more than that. It would raise the flag, the flag of courage, and hope, and the pioneer spirit. It would say to the world, and to ourselves, that we will not accept defeat. That we remain a nation whose great deeds will continue to be celebrated in newspapers, and not just in museums. That we as a nation are not old, but young; that we are living not at the end of our history, but at its beginning. It would say, in no uncertain terms: “Yes we can.”

That’s the change we need.

Robert Zubrin is the President of the Mars Society.


Filed under: Economics, Mars, Politics, Space, , , , , , , ,

Transparent Stimulation, check. Economic Crisis as distraction, check.

This website will detail the history and application of the recently signed into law, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

I’ve been waiting for some time now in a sort of “show me” mood since the election. Its my humble opinion that this is a step in the right direction. And regardless of the outcome of the political efforts to reach across the aisle and work with minority republicans, “bipartisanship”, it showed, I think, a degree of maturity I have not seen in a while. Even if they made dozens of concessions to please republicans including a large tilt towards a still unproven method of stimulus – 288 billion in tax relief – in exchange for a less than hand full of GOP votes, that is even if it didn’t work as well as democrats and the administration had hoped, it may have prevented the moral justification to fillibuster and prevented the bill from being signed within the first 3 weeks of the administration. The only tax relief I was looking for was an expanded tax credit for new home buyers since I plan on buying my first house this year, originally proposed to be 15000 was trimmed, or should I say HACKED, to 8000, it was previously 7500. But hey, I was going to buy a house weather or not there was a tax encentive for it. Not exactly proof of the ineffectiveness of tax relief but here we are. Its not going to be the deciding factor of people entering the market for a new, or thier first house.

Now if the administration can get to work on the housing and financial elements of the economic crisis while this stimulus act works to keep the ship above water, things should work out. I’m still waiting for the administration to name the new NASA chief and see how theyre going to change things in the space program. I hope – they have a look at the Mars Direct plan or derivatives of it to begin the manned exploration of the red planet and inspire a new generation of explorers, scientist and engineers as the Apollo program did. Its been said that for every dolar invested in the space program the economy gets 7 or 8 back, if thats not stimulus Ill eat this keyboard. Obama doesnt need to go far to ask his new Secretary of Energy about the benifits for investing more in science, basic research and an inspiring, ambitious space program.

Im currently reading “The Case for Mars” by Robert Zubrin. And I’m again simultaneously ashamed and delighted. Ashamed I have not picked up this book before – published in 1996 – it has changed a lot of how a Mission to Mars would be effectively formulated. And delighted at the simplicity and practical nature of the plan – the idea is, as I currently understand it, to go the way all exploration has been effectively done, by living off of the land and radically reducing the cost of the mission by engineering the solutions needed to utilize the Mars environment rather than shipping everything needed for the mission with you. Rocket fuel, water, essentially all of the raw materials required by a technologically advanced settlement is all there on the red planet just waiting to be used by those with the skills and knowledge needed to engineer the solutions.

From the Preface :: “The key to this plan is the mission’s ability to use Mars-native resources to make its return propellant and much of its consumables on the surface of the planet itself. It is the richness of Mars that makes the Red Planet not only desireable, but attainable.”

I highly recommend the book so far to anyone interested in space exploration.

Filed under: Economics, Mars, Politics, Science, Space

Martians future drinking water spoted

This NASA computer graphic shows three craters in the eastern Hellas region of Mars containing concealed glaciers detected by radar. The left image shows how the surface looks today with the ice covered by a layer of Martian soil. The right image depicts the hidden glaciers. - LA.Times

This NASA computer graphic shows three craters in the eastern Hellas region of Mars containing concealed glaciers detected by radar. The left image shows how the surface looks today with the ice covered by a layer of Martian soil. The right image depicts the hidden glaciers. - LA.Times

This is hot.

Well – maybe – not so much.  But this is a very important discovery for future manned exploration of the red planet.  Ice-water at less harsh, slightly warmer lattitudes closer to the equator is great news for NASA and future astronauts in line for the mission to mars.  Every pound of equipment and supplies you need to drag out thier increases the cost and complexity of the mission – if the ice on mars can be processed and used by future astronauts it would make the trip and even a colony more feasible.

Filed under: Mars, Space



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